After months of plugging away at your ground breaking proposal, you have been invited to present it to the board of directors prior to sign-off. You know your stuff inside out. The board has been receptive to your ideas on those rare occasions when you could sound one or two of them out. Your line manager is pleased with where you’ve taken the proposal. Your collaborations with colleagues have been good to great. You should be skipping down the corridor, but somehow you are not. Your inner nemesis is rearing its ugly head: incessant mental chatter. That little voice in the back of your head telling you not to get ahead of yourself. Those nagging thoughts that pop into your head at the most inopportune times to inform you that you are probably overlooking something crucial. The self-doubt that pushes away the evidence that your hard work is about to pay off.
It happens to the most accomplished of us.
Career success is no guarantee that we have mastered our mental chatter. In fact, many of us discover that we have built a successful career in spite of being constantly assailed by it. I certainly hear a lot of clients describe theirs and how destructive it can be.
Here are three ways other people deal effectively with mental chatter.
1. Give it airtime
This may sound counter intuitive, but it works for many people. Rather than wait for the voice to start up, invite it to speak when it suits you. It is a way of acknowledging the concerns that you have deep down and working with them. Here are some techniques to try: Pick a time when you can reflect undisturbed on what your chatter is about. Jot down everything that comes to mind, bullets are great. When you have exhausted supply, look through the list and decide which items are baseless; which ones have some truth to them but are sabotaging distractions and which ones are valid concerns and need you to take action. Be sure to take those while there is still time. To clear your mind just before an interview, presentation or other performance demanded of you, find a quiet moment to write down some key phrases about your worries. Think back to everything you have done to mitigate them. Question the validity of what is left on your list, then tuck it away. If your chatter keeps you up at night, keep a notebook and pen handy to write down what it is telling you. The knowledge that you are keeping what it is saying safe helps to quieten it so you can go back to sleep.
2. Turn down the volume
Imagine your mental chatter has a volume button that you can turn up or down. Decide how much you want to hear and use that volume button accordingly. This can work beautifully for people who have started to listen to their mental chatter ‘on demand’. They have taken control of that voice by listening to it and taking away some of its power by recording what it says and taking action. For a cheeky twist on this technique when your chatter is starting to annoy you, give it a funny voice. How seriously can you take its arguments when they are delivered in the voice of Miss Piggy?
3. Cherish your mental chatter
This too can sound like the opposite of what you should do to deal with chatter. Don’t we just want it to go away and never come back? Although understandable, we are probably stuck with our inner voice for life. And perhaps that is a good thing. Although it can be hugely undermining if you allow it, mental chatter has an important role to play in keeping us safe too. It can share important information we have been willing to overlook. Sometimes we confuse intuition with chatter: that is a discovery in itself. Our inner pessimist can also serve as a counterbalance to confidence we have not (yet) earned. It would be foolish to declare it a Bad Thing and make it a rule to ignore it altogether.
Learning to listen to chatter
Sometimes our mental chatter is right on the money and we should simply listen. It’s knowing when to turn it down or give it the day off that is an art to perfect. There are many ways to do this – what works for one person is ineffective for the next. Try some for yourself and see what happens. What’s your chatter like, and what are your best ways to deal with it?
My poor, neglected blog. I didn’t abandon it because I lost interest, nor did I run out of material to write about. No, this coach needed to focus her energy elsewhere. In the last three years I have done plenty of writing and published three books with Bookboon.com. I started this blog to put down ideas and have conversations that had no place else to go, but the book writing gobbled up a lot of my time and thinking space.
But that’s not the whole story, and it would insincere of me not to share what else took me away all this time.
Two years ago I started to feel increasingly stiff in my limbs getting up in the morning. At first, I put it down to being run down as a result of a recent bereavement. When after several months it got worse and some serious fatigue started to set in, I packed myself off to my GP.
Wellbeing, health and ethics
The coaching body I belong to, the International Coach Federation, doesn’t reference coach health and well-being specifically in its professional code. It says this about how coaches should look after themselves:
I will, at all times, strive to recognize personal issues that may impair, conflict or interfere with my coaching performance or my professional coaching relationships. Whenever the facts and circumstances necessitate, I will promptly seek professional assistance and determine the action to be taken, including whether it is appropriate to suspend or terminate my coaching relationship(s).
ICF Code of Ethics
I have always known I have a responsibility to look after myself so whatever is going on in my existence does not distract from my clients’ own issues, doesn’t cloud my judgment, and doesn’t stop me from firing on all cylinders when I’m with them. I started to get worried about that.
I found no help other than the above. Coaches don’t seem to talk much about how you know you are fit to practise safely. Had I stumbled upon some sort of taboo here? I decided to have more coaching supervision than strictly required and tell my supervisor everything. It was a great relief that I had an outside perspective to make the right professional decisions. That left my health to deal with.
Long story short, I went through the (still) amazingly resilient NHS system and ticked off test after test that proved several awful things thankfully had no hold on me. But the weird fatigue, muscle pain and aches remained.
Recognising the turning point
At the end of May 2019 I was feeling especially fed up and tired when I went to see my rheumatologist. I’d scaled down on my coaching assignments. Whatever this was, it was putting the brakes on my work. That is not negotiable.
A very easy to talk to consultant, his long-term regulars addressed him as Alex each time he beamed his smile into the waiting room to pick up his next patient. Alex gave me an inquisitive look and simply asked how I was. He listened carefully to my account and responded with warmth. Then he called my problem by its real name: fibromyalgia. It’s a problem with neurotransmitters in the brain registering pain that has no physical cause.
Now things got interesting. Alex recommended sleep meds to break the cycle of disturbed sleep. It makes the fatigue worse and doesn’t help the brain deal with misfiring neurotransmitters either.
To say I wasn’t keen on the pharma solution is an understatement. It is hard to get off those meds again. Even worse, the ones Alex suggested had side effects including drowsiness in the morning (no surprises there), anxiety, depression and impaired judgment. I can’t afford to experience any of those; in fact no-one can.
When the obvious solution isn’t what you need…
And so I asked Alex about the alternative. His eyebrows went up, his eyes started to gleam. ‘Exercise. Like mad. Forty minutes a day, five days a week. For the rest of your life.’
I couldn’t help it, but I burst out laughing. ‘That’s it? That’s all? Why didn’t you start there?’ I felt beyond excited about this. What a simple solution to my pernicious problem!
Alex shrugged. ‘Nobody can do it, so I usually explain about the sleep meds.’ He folded his hands over his belly and sat back to observe me. He knows what I do for a living, I suspected some reverse psychology was being deployed here. I didn’t care, I took the bait.
‘I’m not nobody,’ I grinned back. ‘You watch me go.’
I would make a fine coach if I couldn’t stretch myself to this goal and make it work. This wasn’t just about my health anymore: I had a professional point to make too. I challenge my clients every day and hold them to account. I can’t claim to be a coach when I can’t muster the discipline, the mental toughness to do the same for myself, by myself.
Now Alex laughed too and asked me what I planned to do. He looked impressed when I told him, wished me luck, and added he would be writing to my GP so I could get that prescription after all. He shook my hand extra firmly when I told him I wouldn’t be seeing my GP about this and walked me out the door, still grinning.
Stick with the plan
Six months later I am on a quarter of the pain meds I needed before. I’m sleeping much, much better. The brain fog is almost non-existent and usually requires several nights of disturbed sleep in a row to make an appearance. My energy is almost entirely back to my old levels. My health is recovering fast.
I train intensively at least three times a week and set myself scary goals. At present I’m an 8th kyu in Shotokan Karate, also known as a red belt. Don’t be impressed, it’s a beginner grade. Despite Sensei’s impatient shouts I am kind of expected to be a tangle of arms and legs, which is just as well.
Nevertheless, next week I am entering an international competition to see what that’s like. According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), competitiveness is my least favoured mode. What better way to work on that than by physically beating your opponent? I’m calling this CPD.
Sticking to the plan has been easy: I am getting so much joy from this I’ve almost forgotten what brought me here. Apart from my upcoming grading and competition there is no expectation to be any good at this. I’m regularly being bested by nine-year-old brown belts and it’s delightful.
My main problem right now is keeping a straight face on the mat. It isn’t easy blocking a 6′ black belt’s kick when you’re collapsing with laughter at the absurdity of it all. It’ll be my next challenge, right after I’ve posted my Christmas card to Alex.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s moonlighting as a performance coach.
You did our non-scientific quiz and decided to get a coach – now what? Here are our 10 top tips to maximise your coaching experience.
Tip One: Choose your coach carefully
Isn’t that obvious, I hear you think? Well yes, and here are some pointers to get you going.
Ask for recommendations from friends, family, colleagues, even competitors. Personal recommendations are valuable
Remember that a coach who does a great job with your friend who is dealing with a messy divorce is perhaps not as well suited to coaching you on developing your start-up business
Talk to more than one coach before you settle on one. Sleep on it if that helps
They don’t need to be mate material, but you do need to be able to trust your chosen coach with your innermost thoughts. If you feel that you could, that’s a good sign.
Tip Two: Decide what matters in a coach
Once you have identified a few potential coaches to talk to, give some thought to what you consider essential and what would be nice to have in your coach. You may need to make a trade-off. For example, are you more interested in:
Experience or formal coaching qualifications?
Personal recommendations or proven experience with clients similar to you?
A lower rate or more experience/better qualifications/glowing recommendations?
Tip Three: Ask everything about them
Make sure you ask everything you want to know about the coach and their practice. In addition to practical questions you should find out about the way they work. Here are some sample questions:
Can they explain their approach and method to you?
How often do they have coaching supervision?
When was the last time they worked with a coach themselves as a client?
If you feel uneasy about asking about these things, if the coach becomes defensive or rushes you, do take that as a sign that you need to look further before deciding.
Tip Four: Have a clear coaching question
When you are clear how you want your coaching experience to make a difference to you, it is much easier to find the right coach.
To define your question as clearly as possible, work backwards: (more…)
In 1995, Greenpeace led a campaign to stop Shell from retiring a redundant oil storage facility, the Brent Spar, by sinking it into a trough off the coast of Scotland. The campaign raised the question of whether the creatures on the seabed could be considered to be stakeholders. A global debate erupted and took on a political hue while stakeholder theorists were having a field day.
Stakeholders: not to be confused with shareholders.
We don’t need to own shares or have a formal relationship with a company to influence its success. A vocal minority can achieve much by lobbying those who do and by making use of media coverage to get the masses on their side. Stakeholders are also not necessarily people: they can be organisations and they can even be voiceless organisms.
As Shell found at a price, well-connected opponents can raise hell. The loss of sales due to consumer boycotts was estimated to be between £60 and £100 million. The loss of political goodwill across Europe resulted in further complications for the multinational, which is dependent on licences to operate in national and international waters.
The Brent Spar case is of course a spectacular example of a very large organisation completely underestimating its stakeholders. It was only under immense pressure and with hours to spare that Shell called off the sinking of the Brent Spar. It was eventually recycled into harbour facilities.
Better reasons to engage your stakeholders
Financial losses are often an important reason for engaging with stakeholders. It’s a shame, because if it has become clear that losses are on the books, there is very likely a serious problem in the eyes of your stakeholders. They tend to vote with their feet.
Here are some reasons to not wait around for disaster to strike and get up close and personal with your stakeholders while the going is good.
1. Improvement and innovation
Stakeholders are a rich source of information. Think about product development and service improvement: your current prospects and customers can give you valuable insight into how you are doing.
What is it like to use your stuff? Does it continue to deliver on their expectations? What about value for money? And if they could wave a magic wand at your product, what would happen?
2. Gaining competitive advantage
Cast your eye beyond what you’re focused on yourself and examine the wider landscape. How do you compare to your closest competitors? What are your competitors good at, that you can learn from?
In addition to learning from your customers and doing your market research, you can tap into other stakeholders who can tell you where you feature on the map. For example, what do expert bloggers think of your product or service? How are competitors’ products discussed on user forums?
3. Measuring organisational mood
An oft-overlooked stakeholder is the internal one: you, and your own people. Staying close to your internal stakeholders means having a finger on the pulse of organisational mood. This matters, because like customers, staff can vote with their feet and even decide to undermine your purpose from within.
Internal communications that flow both ways are absolutely essential here. As with the above examples it will pay dividends to start this before crisis hits, so you have established mechanisms and relationships to draw on when times do get tough.
In December 2016 my first book, Understanding Stakeholders was published by Bookboon.com.
Synopsis: The emphasis of this book is on understanding stakeholders through five organisational lenses: senior leadership, the HR function, project management, marketing and communications and customer services. Stakeholders are considered slightly differently by each of these functional perspectives. By visiting each perspective we will pick up additional approaches and stakeholder methods and reduce potential confusion when working across functions.
To see the Table of Contents or go straight ahead and buy a copy, click on the image below.